Elastica – Elastica

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Yet another album I’ve bought twice. The first time, it left me cold but after additional listens years later, I could appreciate that the detachment was intentional and effective. At the same time, I can’t say I love the band either. They’re fine – the two albums are fine, and I enjoy listening to them, but I have none of the emotional trappings of fandom about them. Vocalist/guitarist Justine Frischmann had been kicked out of Suede in 1991 and decided to form a band with Justin Welch (who had drummed on a couple of early Suede songs). Annie Holland and Donna Matthews soon joined and by 1993 they released their first single. The band found controversy when they were sued by Wire and the Stranglers for copyright infringement.

What I Think of This Album

This is a lean post-punk affair that speeds by, spitting out 16 songs in just over 40 minutes (on the US release, which adds an extra track and rearranges the last few songs as compared to the original UK version). What I focus on is the robotic vocals and the short, spiky, skeletal, spindly songs. 

Elastica (and Elastica) was (in)famous for its sexuality and its plagiarism. Both are a little overblown, I think. Certainly, the fact that the songwriting is shared militates against a theory of unified horny vision. Guitarist Donna Matthews provides three songs; she and Justine Frischmann collaborate on one; and another finds the two of them sharing a credit with (I’m assuming) Suede’s Brett Anderson, on a song I suspect Frischmann brought over with her after her time in that band.

Still, I can’t deny that Matthews’s three songs fit in well with the overall sound, even if they are free of any frank carnal pronouncements. “Annie” is a punkish blast about getting drunk that is very slight. “Blue” shares similar sonics, though with a greater melodic range. And “2:1” offers icy, robotic lyrics, with a fantastic ribbonned guitar line and a creative overlapping call/response section, with lyrics that are again unclear.

Much of Frischmann’s work is far more direct, even while her vocal style often masks her intent. In this vein, “Stutter” is a triumph of style over substance. The song communicates a relatively sympathetic take on a lover’s erectile dysfunction/premature ejaculation (“Well it isn’t a problem / Nothing we can’t solve so just relax”) but the delivery sounds derisive and cutting. The singing suggests Frischmann is a heartless maneater, but the lyrics reveal otherwise. Likewise, Frischmann pleads “Don’t keep your distance” on “Hold Me Now,” admitting her besottedness (“I’d take somebody else if I could”) with little shame. But her bloodless, animatronic sing-speak does not match up with the passion of the words. You could argue irony, but I don’t buy that.

The angular “Line Up,” a nasty takedown of a groupie, if anything comes across as *anti-sex*. I do like the grunts at the beginning of the song, which suggest something more humorous than what we end up with. “Car Song” is pro-sex, at least insofar as the act takes place in or on a car, and Frischmann gives the piece a seductive reading. “All-Nighter” could’ve been a Sleeper song, and is probably the best deep cut here, with sweet backing vocals and Frischman’s appealing yelp goosed along by an enthusiastic beat.

The bouncy, Wire-referencing, handclapped “Connection” is arguably the highlight track (though I am partial to “Hold Me Now”). As with “Car Song,” Frischmann’s delivery is critical to the success of the piece, offering up ennui and resentment. “Waking Up” is undeniably great, and this is where the plagiarism is perhaps the most problematic. While the band certainly knew what they were doing copping the iconic riff from Wire’s “Three Girl Rhumba” for “Connection,” the two songs were markedly different and the theft seemed like, at worst, homage overdone. I feel like this is mostly true for the overlap between “Line Up” and Wire’s “I Am the Fly,” though the similarities are closer. But there is little defense to how “Waking Up” hews so closely to the Stranglers’ “No More Heroes” (while being, undeniably, the better tune), and the similarities cast a pall over the work.

The album is still overlong at 16 tracks. “Indian Song” is offensively titled and similarly conceived – it only barely contains a sound that a white Brit would think of as Indian. “Vaseline” is a silly bit of filler that is also contrary to established medical advice – do not use Vaseline as lube, folks. “Smile” vanishes without a trace pretty quickly. “S.O.F.T.” (supposedly for “same old fucking thing”) sort of plods along with a tired guitar part, but the vocals are a little more interesting than usual (sometimes reminding me of Lush in their high-pitchedness). “See That Animal” should’ve been left with the rest of the Suede baggage that Frischmann walked away from. “Never Here” relies heavily on a Cure-like bass part and post-punk goth sound, but not very successfully. Add in the needless “Annie” and that’s seven tracks that don’t really improve the album.

For some reason, the packaging includes lyrics for only some of the tracks, which is annoying. Production duties were handled in part by Marc Waterman (Ride).

Trivia:  keyboards are credited to Dan Abnormal, which appears to be an anagram of Damon Albarn (Blur). Among the many mixers were John Leckie (producer of the Stone Roses, and Radiohead) and Alan Moulder (engineering, mixing, and production work for the Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver, the Killers, the Cure).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Hold Me Now”

Release Date

March, 1995

The Cover Art

I used to hate this cover, shot by Juergen Teller. The style is stark, intrusive, and tawdry, reminiscent of a 1950’s scandal magazine or the crime scene work of Weegee. I feel less strongly now, and I appreciate the androgyny, but I still don’t like it.

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